Gorgeous and quaint, Segovia is only one hour from Madrid, yet far removed from hectic city life. Step into the walled town where history is written on every street and you immediately slow down to a gentler pace. There are more Romanesque churches in Segovia than in any other town in Spain, a castle that would make Walt Disney jealous, sculptures tucked away in odd corners and myriad formal gardens. Build up an appetite with a stroll along Calle de Daoíz, lined with small shops, galleries and restaurants, or gaze up at the cathedral while drinking an aperitif in Plaza Mayor in the shade of the colonnades. Look for the unusual Moorish plaster decorations, called esgrafiado, adorning one of the walls. They’re said to be the ancestors of graffiti. The town has a modern face too, in a museum dedicated to poetry, and a collection of Abstract Expressionist works housed in a 15th century palace. End the day with a late lunch of the region’s famous suckling pig.
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Segovia sits on a rocky outcrop, protected by crenelated 11th-century walls, partly built with gravestones pilfered from a Roman necropolis. Inside is a marvel of engineering, an aqueduct around 800 metres in length, built from more than 20,000 granite blocks. When you walk beside the supporting columns, look carefully at the stones and you’ll notice there’s nothing holding them together, no mortar or metal clamps. According to local legend a young girl was so tired of fetching water from the river that she made a pact with the devil, giving her soul in exchange for a hydraulic system. It’s known to date to the Roman Empire, possibly the first century AD. However it came about, it’s a remarkable sight.
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Positioned on the highest point in the town, Alcazar castle looks like every small child’s idea of the perfect fairy tale castle. Once home to a princess, Isabella was proclaimed Queen of Castille here in 1474, and it’s where she and Ferdinand met for the first time. Originally erected around 1122 to repel the Moors, it was rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries but sadly burned down in 1862. La Sala de la Piñas, a room with a carved and gilded ceiling encrusted with pineapple shaped stalactites, is reminiscent of palaces in parts of North Africa. In the Throne Room it’s easy to picture Colombus asking the King for gold to fund his expeditions. Before you leave, climb to the top of the John II tower for views of the entire city, showing the cathedral and the layout of the walls.
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The cathedral, begun in 1525 by Juan Gil de Hontañón and completed 65 years later, is a masterpiece of Basque-Castilian Gothic architecture. It was the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain, so while the interior is rather solemn, the exterior is a joyous nod to the Baroque. The decorations on the spires make them look like candles on a multi-tiered wedding cake topped by two elegantly-chiselled cupolas. It’s worth walking the full 105 by 50 metre perimeter, past all three entry doors, to absorb the full scale of this building. Once inside, note the elaborate choir stalls and Hispano-Flemish Gothic cloister. The first chapel on the right houses a moving wooden sculpture titled ‘Entombment’ by Baroque artist Juan de Juni.
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Food is an expression of many things – culture, beliefs and tradition – and the Segovian philosophy concerning suckling pig combines all three. Eating pork is ingrained in Spanish culture and locals believe the pig should be fed only on their mother’s milk and no more than three weeks old. Butchered the morning they’re roasted, they need nothing other than salt for seasoning. After at least three hours in a giant wood-fired oven, the skin is so crisp it cracks like the top of a creme brulee. Traditionally the pig is carved with the edge of a plate. The first two thrusts are made along the length of the spine and then four across it. Watch as the cochinillo master, trained in the art, serves out portions of the tender meat as reverently as an offering.